From the Editor: A Wide Future
In March I flew to Kansas City to be on hand for the judging of the In-Print 2022 contest for the first time since 2019. Despite an unintended overnight in Des Moines, it was great to actually go somewhere and hang out with in-plant managers. During breaks in judging, I caught up on what’s been happening in their shops. I’ve greatly missed those conversations over the past two years. It gave me a taste of what’s to come this spring when I return to live events.
In-Print contest entries were down from pre-COVID levels — no surprise because of the reduced demand for print last year — but one thing I noticed was that wide-format inkjet entries remained strong. This included not only standard posters but many creative entries in the special projects category devoted to inkjet and dye-sublimation processes. There were items printed on rigid substrates like slate and acrylic, photos of intricate vehicle wraps printed and installed by in-plant staff, floor graphics, and other unique items that would never have been produced by in-plants 10 years ago. I was proud to see such innovative pieces being created in-house.
The diversity of wide-format applications has been expanding for years, exacerbated by the demand for floor and window graphics during the pandemic. In-plants have stepped up to the challenge by acquiring new wide-format printers and teaching themselves to produce some very creative projects.
This expansion can be seen clearly in new IPI research, which shows that 81% of in-plants now provide wide-format printing services, up from 77% two years ago. What’s more, 26% have flatbed wide-format printers, which have greatly expanded the variety of items they can print. A related service, automated contour cutting, is also soaring in popularity; 35% now have a contour cutter, up from 26% in 2020. And 35% of in-plants are installing these graphics themselves, up from 30% two years ago, giving them excellent visibility in the organization.
The application that’s grown the most, by far, is floor graphics. In 2020, 35% printed floor graphics; in 2022 an impressive 62% are producing them, making this the third most popular wide-format application after posters and banners. Other changes: the percentage that print window clings has jumped from 46% to 53%; and wall graphics are now handled by 61% of in-plants, up from 52%.
This increase in wide-format work has brought a corresponding jump in revenue. Two years ago, our industry survey showed that wide-format sales accounted for an average of 9% of in-plants’ revenue; in our new survey, it makes up 14% of their revenue, eating into the share of revenue provided by digital toner printing.
These aren’t the only trends revealed by our new research. Over the past two years:
- The percentage handling mail went from 55% to 64%.
- Copier fleet management is handled by 38% now, up from 31%.
- Graphic design services are provided by 75%, up from 69%.
- Warehousing and fulfillment services rose from 32% to 38%.
- The percentage providing variable data printing also climbed, from 75% to 80%.
These services might be opportunities for in-plants that don’t already provide them.
There have also been changes in the popularity of printed products over the past two years. Books, envelopes, and bills are all produced by a higher percentage of in-plants than in 2020. On the other hand, manuals and marketing materials are printed by fewer, the latter likely influenced by COVID cutbacks.
The full IPI report will be available soon, but for now in-plants should look at these and other opportunities and focus on expanding their services to create more value for their organizations.
Bob has served as editor of In-plant Impressions since October of 1994. Prior to that he served for three years as managing editor of Printing Impressions, a commercial printing publication. Mr. Neubauer is very active in the U.S. in-plant industry. He attends all the major in-plant conferences and has visited nearly 170 in-plant operations around the world. He has given presentations to numerous in-plant groups in the U.S., Canada and Australia, including the Association of College and University Printers and the In-plant Printing and Mailing Association. He also coordinates the annual In-Print contest, co-sponsored by IPMA and In-plant Impressions.